The Gardens and Parks at Hampton Court Palace

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, The Gardens and Parks at Hampton Court Palace (London: Frances Lincoln, 2005), 208 pp., illus. in colour and black-and-white, £25.00 (hbk), ISBN 0- 7112-2368-8

From its earliest days, Hampton Court Palace has been a showplace; from the time of Cardinal Wolsey the gardens were not only the height of fashion, but also often in the vanguard. For more than two hundred and fifty years, from 1528, it was a royal residence and this only ceased on the accession of George III in 1760. Thereafter, it was the head gardeners and rangers who, in effect, decided how it should be maintained. When Queen Victoria announced in 1838 that the palace and the gardens should be opened to the public, it became a popular destination for day excursions. By the 1850s there were hundreds of thousands of visitors per year; today there are some one million visitors annually.

The Introduction outlines the preoccupations of the various monarchs and their impact on the parks and gardens and traces what happened to them after the reigning monarchs lost interest. The author makes it clear that the book is not intended to be a complete history of the royal landscapes and gardens nor a royal biography. It is intended as a handbook, so the focus is on the park and garden-makers and on the many gardeners, rangers and surveyors involved in their creation, alteration and maintenance. It also includes some of the reactions of the many visitors, whose descriptions bring the parks and gardens of the past to life. Each chapter focuses on a discrete area: Privy Garden, Pond Gardens, Great Fountain Garden, West Front, the Courts, the Wilderness, the Tiltyard, the Glasshouse Nursery, Hampton Court Green and the Vrow Walk, the Parks, and the Barge Walk. The final chapter looks at the fame of Hampton Court Palace Gardens. Historic plans, views and engravings are accompanied by excellent photographs of the estate today.

The Leonard Knyff view of Hampton Court from the south (1702) and his painted view from the east (c.1705), included in the Introduction, provide the reader with overviews of the gardens and parks at this date. They do not, of course, pinpoint and name each garden and area; and a reader unfamiliar with the site might have found this useful. (This information is, however, available towards the end of the book in a plan by Charles Bridgeman of 1711.)

This book is not just about the history of the Hampton Court parks and gardens, it is also an important contribution to the historiography of garden history. In the 1950s it was argued that when the palace ceased to be a royal residence, the direct connection with English history was broken. It was not until the late 1980s that the layout and interpretation of the parks and gardens began to be influenced by an appreciation of garden history. When the Tudor Pond Garden was restored in 1949, the restoration was based on archaeological and plant research. Such informed restoration, as opposed to reconstructions that were not research-based, did not recur until the reconstruction of the King’s Privy Garden in the 1990s. Henry VIII’s Privy Garden was developed in 1529–36 and nothing quite like it had been seen before. Antonius van den Wyngaerde’s view c.1555 showed the new garden; it is one of the earliest surviving views of the royal demesne. The changes made by various monarchs can be seen in contemporary drawings and engravings.

The disaster of the fire in 1986 galvanized a radical reassessment of how the palace and gardens should be presented. The subsequent restoration of the Privy Garden was based on the wealth of documents, archaeology and horticultural evidence that survived; and underpinned one of the most ambitious garden restorations of the time. The visual link between palace, garden and river was restored – fulfilling an aim shared by the Thames Landscape Strategy, which is currently restoring the historic vistas, avenues and landscapes that form the Arcadian Thames from Hampton to Kew.

The replanting of the avenues in Home Park became urgent after the Great Storm of 1987, when five hundred trees came down. The Cross Avenues and the Long Water Avenue were replanted in 1996 and 2004, respectively. Long Water Avenue had been inter-planted piecemeal over the past one hundred and fifty years; and it was decided to fell and replace the double lime avenue with 544 limes of the same variety as those of the original seventeenth-century ones. Archaeology determined the exact planting positions. It would have been interesting to learn what negotiations this successful exercise involved. The eastern end of the Long Vista always lacked a focal point. Fortunately, a planning application to build highrise developments at the end of the Long Vista was resisted and the Jubilee Fountain installed in 2002 now forms the focal point. This is a beautifully designed book of interest to a wide range of readers. It is about garden and social history, garden tourism, and about how we negotiate change and understand place.

Hazel Conway

33:1 (Summer 2005)

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